Lately I have been thinking quite a bit about productivity and work ethic. I used to tie my self-worth in to my day’s productivity. If I was productive with school or tasks at home, I felt good about myself. If I “wasted” my day, I was a waste. Wasting time made me so anxious and triggered all sorts of nastiness in my head.

A lot of this anxiety and perfectionism fueled my productivity and overall work ethic, especially as it related to schoolwork. I got things done because I was anxious about not doing something, and I would do it well because I was a perfectionist. Neuroses aside, I tend to produce high-quality work and usually care about tasks I am assigned. The people-pleaser in me wants to be perfect for someone, although I do get a my own sense of satisfaction from a job well done.

I am currently working a one-year AmeriCorps position where I am hardly ever given direct instruction. I hear often from my “boss” (who does not work at my site placement), “Take initiative!” and “Execute!” and “This year is what you make of it!” … but I don’t do that very well. I get asks from people at my site that are vague and visionary and out of a desire for something but they aren’t quite sure what that something should be. I, as a fairly unqualified AmeriCorps participant for the type of position I’m in, don’t really know how to take these ambiguous requests and run with it to execute and I find myself unmotivated to take initiative on projects that are a waste or are not seen as helpful at my site.

I overall enjoy my days. But am I productive? Sometimes. Not as often as I would like. I have trouble initiating independent tasks (often out of anxiety) or following through (what’s the point?) … but when I am given direction, or a quasi-clear ask, I am able to fulfill that person’s request.

I wonder if this is the pendulum: in working to reduce my anxiety and perfectionism, I am sacrificing quality, productivity, and work ethic. Perhaps this is an exaggeration- I haven’t completely swung the other direction, but I am finding it difficult to identify what I do all day and shouldn’t I be doing more?

I make to-do lists. I structure my day. I meet deadlines. But I’m not intrinsically motivated at the moment. Not at all.

I am thinking about making done-lists. Has anyone tried this? I want to make a list at the end of each day of the things I did accomplish. I bet it’s not as much as I think it is (and I don’t think it’s a whole lot right now anyway).

I want to be inspired and make the most out of this year! but I also struggle with the idea of wasted work, wasted time, and not having the knowledge and skills necessary to truly take good initiative at this job.

Perhaps I am deriving significantly less of my self-worth these days from my productivity. I consider this a good thing. I also consider it a challenge to do work that meets my expectations of excellence (not perfection, mind you, but I have high standards). Maybe this is a post-college, real-job challenge that many people face. If I’m not being constantly evaluated and earning grades and feedback, am I just losing my work ethic? Am I that extrinsically motivated?

I’d like to think not, I’d like to think this is connected to the type of position I have, but it’s hard to say.

I sure do like being given directions, though.

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